Years ago it was thought that husbands had affairs and wives did not. Really. I was thrown off several radio shows for insisting that the legions of men having affairs across the globe were not, as these talk-show hosts thought, sleeping only with a small pool of unmarried women, but with other wives as well. That I had spoken with these wives and reported on their feelings about affairs, as I did for my first book, The Erotic Silence of the American Wife, made me almost as evil on these shows as the wives themselves. (I was called “a witch” on the Larry King show.)
In a piece in The Times Style section last Sunday about sexting, a study revealed that yes, online dalliances occur. And women, the study showed, sext more than men do. Women also send naked pictures of themselves to men. One of the study’s researchers, Dr. Kholos Wysocki, a professor of sociology and women’s studies at the Universityof Nebraska at Kearney said she didn’t feel the internet was causing infidelity, but that “something is going on with marriage that’s the bigger social issue. Before, people would just get a divorce. For some reason, people are staying and cheating instead.”
I don’t agree with Dr. Kearney. I think people have been having extramarital affairs since marriage began. And staying married; not necessarily getting divorces first, or at all. What would be encouraging affairs at this time, but discouraging divorce at this time? That people are questioning their ability to stay sexuall exclusive for a lifetime plays into the former. That we are in a downturn and divorce is expensive certainly plays into the latter. That we are now a singles culture, not a married one (that is, there are more single households than married ones in the country) makes marriage more precious, in theory anyway, and that might be a factor.
But men and women have always had affairs–even if our culture didn’t acknowledge or even believe it. Always. Not just men with single women. Not just the rich. Yes, the most religious people, too. The most moral. Sanctimonious people, the ones so righteously indignant about sex outside of marriage, have always had affairs– and often didn’t divorce. If finding partners is now easier because websites are cropping up that offer both willing partners and privacy; and if keeping both marriage and sexual freedom becomes an easier option as a result, then yes, there will be more affairs. At least more than we used to be aware of. Simple as that.